I've come across the expression "head(s) and tails above" (the rest, the competition etc; different from something like "can't make head or tail of something" i.e. can't figure it out/understand). I can't find information about this. It seemingly means completely.

Could you confirm its meaning and explain it a bit? Is it rare, is this expression recent and is it restricted to or typical of specific regions (Canada?)?

  • 3
    Far more common is heads and shoulders above [the rest]. Commented May 13, 2023 at 19:19
  • @Heartspring So it re-purposes the expression and uses "tails" instead of "shoulders"? More typical of the South maybe? Commented May 13, 2023 at 19:21
  • I haven't heard this use of the expression before, but Mr Google was quick to tell me about it. Commented May 13, 2023 at 19:22
  • So will it be "completely" (as in both heads and tails, the entire coin) or "by a good margin" (the head and the shoulders with respect to the whole body)? Is there an difference? Commented May 13, 2023 at 19:26
  • "Head and shoulders above" implies one stands taller than his or her peers. It has to do with being superior in some way. No one would assume he or she is so tall that all others are actually beneath him or her, or even of less stature than his or her thighs.
    – Biblasia
    Commented May 14, 2023 at 0:42

1 Answer 1


Personally I think heads and tails above [the competition is a kind of "eggcorn" misunderstanding / mishearing of the idiomatic standard head and shoulders above. Certainly the former has almost no currency by comparison...

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The standard version makes sense - literally or figuratively "shorter" ones don't even reach as high as the "taller" one's shoulders.

But OP's version simply makes no sense anyway. How are tails relevant to being taller than something / someone else? Why are both ends pluralized (all bipeds have two shoulders, but who or what has two heads, or two tails?).

Perhaps some people use the term facetiously (compare Does the Pope shit in the woods?, which I think is funny unless you find it offensive). But to me, heads and tails above just sounds ignorant.

  • Thanks, the first time I heard it was in Top Chef, s09e09 @45:00 in, Gail Simmons said "...the brisket was heads and tails above the other two briskets we ate today...". You can also find it in the singular, like here but contrary to the plural version, there are not enough hits for ngram to capture it (about 1% of the plural form). Commented May 14, 2023 at 2:48
  • I've got to say that cited context seems slightly odd for any version of figurative "much taller than" = "stands above the competition". But maybe that's because I'm not cheffy-minded enough to easily envisage briskets publicly competing against each other for top position on the winners' pedestal! :) Commented May 14, 2023 at 3:59
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    In the same way that head over heels in love has taken over from the traditional idiom over head and ears in love. Commented May 14, 2023 at 8:01
  • @KateBunting: I wonder if that's because the older version originally meant [manhandled] violently (grabbed "by head and ears" = "by the scruff of the neck"). That's to say, the original metaphoric allusion may have been to being "firmly grabbed / captivated / dominated" by love, where the modern version implies "disoriented / knocked over / toppled" by it. But I don't see any way to "explain" the heads and tails above version in the current context through a plausible alternative meaning. Commented May 14, 2023 at 10:52
  • @FumbleFingers - I've always understood it to mean deeply submerged. Commented May 14, 2023 at 12:55

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